Columbus is blessed with a remnant of the days when movie houses were stand-alone, single-theater structures found in many neighborhoods. The theater is called the Drexel, and it is found on Main Street in Bexley, a close-in suburb.
The Drexel is a beautiful art deco structure that features a classic neon sign. It hasn’t quite been preserved in its original state; the big theater has been divided into several screening rooms. Still, it is vastly different from, and in many ways preferable to, the cookie-cutter multiplexes found at most shopping malls. Don’t get me wrong — the multiplexes offer the opportunity to see lots of different movies, and we visit them from time to time. It’s nice, however, to walk under the bright sign advertising one of the features being screened, to sit in one of the original theater seats, and to get a distant whiff of what it was like to go to the movies during the glory days of the 1930s and 1940s.
The Drexel typically screens independent films and, occasionally, repertory fare. It’s owned by a non-profit entity, Friends of the Drexel, and is operated by CAPA. Over the years, many volunteers and charitable folks have taken steps to make sure that the Drexel remains in operation, as a cornerstone of the Bexley community. I’m very glad they did.
Yesterday Kish and I went to see a movie at the Drexel Theatre in Bexley. For those who have never been to see a movie at the Drexel, it is one of those theatres that typically screens arts-type films that don’t have the presumed commercial appeal to be shown at an AMC 16 theatre or one of the other big national chains.
Yesterday’s selection was A Single Man, starring Colin Firth. It was a bit of an accident that we saw it; I wanted to see A Serious Man by the Coen brothers, but Kish misread the Drexel ad and we ended up going to A Single Man instead. It’s not a bad movie — Colin Firth gives a strong performance that got him an Academy Award nomination — but it is a very bleak film indeed, about a gay and suicidal college professor who is suffering extraordinary pain because his lover has recently been killed in a car accident.
During the film, I experienced one of those moments of mental clarity where you suddenly realize something that should be obvious but that you typically overlook. In this case, I realized that when you go to a movie theater the other people who are watching with you are complete strangers who could be weird, deranged, or dangerous. That realization occurred because in one tense and uncomfortable scene, as the Colin Firth character is trying to figure out a neat way to blow his brains out without wrecking his pristine home, some other people in the audience started laughing. Maybe the scene was intended to be funny, as opposed to sad, pathetic, and wistful, but I didn’t feel like laughing, and I’m not sure I’d want to hang out with anyone who did.
Something similar happened years ago, when Kish and I lived in D.C. and went to see A Clockwork Orange at the old Biograph Theater. During one scene in which the Malcolm McDowell character engages in some of the “good old ultraviolence” I became acutely conscious of the fact that some of the other people in the theater looked like gang members who might enjoy joining Malcolm’s character on his twisted rampages. When that movie ended, we hit the road as quickly and unobtrusively as possible.